November 4, 2013 § Leave a comment


All roads lead to Rome.  There are always several ways for us to solve a problem.  It’s important to help your students develop the critical thinking and problem solving abilities.  I read an article talking about the “Pampered Child Syndrome”.  Any of you get the idea what that means?

Due to this syndrome, more and more children lose the abilities to solve the problems they encountered in their daily life.  As educators, we do need to challenge ourselves first.  You all did a good job in trying something new for the stop animation infomercial project.  For the rest of this semester, I am going to push you all more to walk out of your comfort zone.  I think that is a good way to learn, right? So let’s spend a few classes talk about several important topics in the 21st century learning– critical thinking and problem solving.  These two will lead us to another two topics– problem-based learning and project-based learning.   But first of all, let’s challenge ourselves a little bit.

PART 1: Marshmallow CHALLENGE

We need 4 people in the table. Your team’s challenge is to build the tallest freestanding structure with spaghetti and a marshmallow. You will have ingredients of 20 spaghetti strips, 1 yard of string, marshmallow, 1 yard of masking tape. 
Here is a direction:

  1. Build the Tallest Freestanding Structure: The winning team is the one that has the tallest structure measured from the table top surface to the top of the marshmallow. That means the structure cannot be suspended from a higher structure, like a chair, ceiling or chandelier.

  2. ✦The Entire Marshmallow Must be on Top: The entire marshmallow needs to be on the top of the structure. Cutting or eating part of the marshmallow disqualifies the team. 

  3. ✦Use as Much or as Little of the Kit: The team can use as many or as few of the 20 spaghetti sticks, as much or as little of the string or tape. The team cannot use the paper bag as part of their structure.

  4. ✦Break up the Spaghetti, String or Tape: Teams are free to break the spaghetti, cut up the tape and string to create new structures.

  5. ✦The Challenge Lasts 18 minutes: Teams cannot hold on to the structure when the time runs out. Those touching or supporting the structure at the end of the exercise will be disqualified.

  6. ✦Do you understand the rules?  Ok, this will be fun. 


When you are done, think about the following questions:

  • There are 2 types of problems: open-ended and close-ended. Which was the marshmallow challenge?

  • How did the “marshmallow challenge” challenge your problem solving ability? Creativity or innovation? 
  • Could the “marshmallow challenge”be considered problem-based learning?
  • When have you experienced the problem-based learning approach in your classes? (What is problem-based learning?)
  • How is this connected to critical thinking? For that matter, what IS CRITICAL THINKING?


Critical thinking is a hot topic in the 21st century learning, but it is not a new idea at all.  Researchers have been working on this topic for more than 2500 years!  Let’s see how it is defined according to the experts.

Here is an interesting video to tell you about critical thinking– Critical Thinking Explained.  Have you thought about that?  You are thinking critically and solving problems every day!


Students use critical thinking skills to plan and conduct research, manage projects, solve problems, and make informed decisions using appropriate digital tools and resources. Students:

  1. identify and define authentic problems and significant questions for investigation.
  2. plan and manage activities to develop a solution or complete a project.
  3. collect and analyze data to identify solutions and/or make informed decisions.
  4. use multiple processes and diverse perspectives to explore alternative solutions.

In the textbook we used before, they defined problem solving ability this way.

“Students apply critical and creative thinking skills to prior knowledge during the problem solving process. The end result of problem solving is typically some kind of a decision: choosing a solution and then evaluating it.” (p 155)

“Problem-based learning (PBL) is a teaching approach that combines critical thinking, problem-solving skills, and inquiry as students explore real-world problems. It is based on unstructured, complex, and authentic problems that are often presented as part of a project.” (p 156)

If you type the words into the word cloud software, you will get a wordle like this. 


For Wednesday: 

Be sure to have a definite idea about what to create for your 20% project.


please complete this form by 12 pm today.




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